Thea is an inclusive service system aiming to provide an equal pregnancy and birth experience, independent from social class by connecting, supporting and especially empowering the growth of a community of pregnant women, mothers, parents and care providers. Thea helps to develop trust in between parents and parents to be, but especially in themselves, with a system consisting of a starter kit with the main information you need during pregnancy and labour, an app connecting you to a local community and additional information via social media.
How Thea works: Every pregnant woman receives a Thea kit through their care provider. It is meant to support an equal start into pregnancy, with important information, containing ideas and advice on the different stages of pregnancy, it is kept simple and understandable and available in different languages. In the kit parents are invited to join Thea via app, social media or physically, to get access to all support, finding someone who is close to you, a platform to talk about taboos, to have someone helping you to see options and take decisions with confidence, so that you can trust in yourself. Furthermore Thea shows the latest news, provides self-organization and participation in events, and connection to parents, midwives or doulas. If not through your care provider you can connect to Thea through a social media platform, a helpful tool to inform as it is accessible to almost everyone. And a place where positive stories and true experiences around the antenatal time can be shared.
Process: Our concept was developed in a co-creative process as a response to problems arising especially for different marginalized groups through COVID-19. Working co-creatively was especially challenging as we did not have the opportunity to physically meet participants, as a consequence of the pandemic COVID-19. Initially we were facing the question of how to create „Togetherness at a Distance" and how to design for a healthier future. Already in an early stage of our process, working with different ethnographic methods, we discovered that we are dealing with problem areas that have been there long before the pandemic: good support and treatment during and after pregnancy is strongly related to income. It is a fact that racism and classism have huge influence on parent's birth experience, as well as life deciding consequences like higher risk of preterm birth, neonatal or infant death. We designed and went through several rounds of digital exploration and ideation workshops, including as many perspectives as possible, working with pregnant women, mothers, midwives and doulas, where we summarized problem areas and findings that helped to shape Thea: inequality, loneliness, information overload, over medicalization and language barrier.
Summary: As a result we defined a system design approach that aims for the exchange of information and knowledge in a digital and physical environment, by connecting mothers or parents locally, but using professionals expertise from also further away, to help parents to take decisions with confidence.
Having confidence in yourself and your body is essential for a healthy pregnancy, birth and postnatal care. It is crucial to understand that you are not sick when you are pregnant, your body is biologically made for this journey. Often expectants can't develop trust in themselves because of the problems we mentioned above: over-medicalization and the information overload, those which lead to insecurity or lack of confidence in decision making. To regain the trust and confidence in yourself, it helps to have someone by your side, sharing experiences, talking and receiving evidence-based knowledge and trustworthy information. Most women experience this by having a midwife following their journey, but this is a luxury not every parent has. That was when we decided to build a community, based on our values of respect, trust and confidence in which everyone, regardless gender, young, old, foreign, new, is connected and gets the help they need.
Tangible Parts of the Thea-System:
We developed different first touchpoints with the system, but the most common one will be the one when you meet your gynecologist or midwife for the first time, confirming your pregnancy. There you can receive your Thea kit, which provides you with the most important information for your pregnancy. It contains medical information, relaxing material, a to do list and monthly cards, which are offering you more precise information about each month. With this variety do we want to achieve a more focused information spectrum, which includes the information that are important for you, in your specific context. One very important part of the thea kit is an invitation to a local birth community. You can find a QR Code, leading you to a website where you can get an impression of what the community is about. If you are already pregnant for some weeks and your care provider hasn't told you about thea, there is also the possibility to hear from thea on social media or other public spaces. The Instagram page is supposed to be a place where positivity and true stories can be shared.
Building a Community - The Thea Platform:
Let's say you have participated in an event at a birth support society. You have seen on the spot that the other participants are connected through an app. Even the midwife, who hosted the prenatal course is telling you, that you can share private concerns. That was when you decided to give the platform a try. Because we want the app to be trustworthy, you have to sign up with an authorization, i.g. through BankID. All professionals have an authorization too with a corresponding labelling. We see the uniqueness here that we create a community platform for local people. We want to combine them with physical touchpoints, so that i.g. your connection to some expectants can grow, which is also going to be visible in the app. We don't want a global anonymous group like facebook and not an exclusive room like a whatsapp group, where no professionals are included and no physical touchpoints and meet ups exist.
Behind Thea stands a layer of governmental support, to actually ensure that the whole system is freely accessible. Next to the government we want a local society to be included, as the concept focuses on bringing people together, they usually already have a good network, knowledge and trustworthiness. Events, talks, classes are often already there, but not well enough connected or shared. Our inspiration for this is the "Geburtskultur" (german for; Birthculture) in Vorarlberg, Austria. Founded in 2016 they are committed to an "attentive to contemporary" birth culture. The aim is to bring the experience of pregnancy and birth into the centre of society so that they can be perceived as safe, fear-free and strengthening experiences. As such they form the basis for health and the ability to relate. They are also funded by different foundations.
The heart of everything is actually about the aesthetics of a community. Help, support and trust that can exist in a society. Our system design approach aims for the exchange of information and knowledge in a digital and physical environment. The reason we are focusing on building a community is, because this is the way to give the tools to talk about taboos, to have someone helping you, to see options, and then take decisions with confidence, someone who is close to you and all that helps you to trust in yourself.
Healthier Future and Relevance:
To wrap this journey up, we focused on developing a solution pointing out to the pregnancy related concerns we found and filtered. We want to rethink how our society shapes pregnant women as if they are sick, but in fact it's the opposite. We want to build confidence through connection. This is an appropriate solution in every pregnancy journey, but we also consider scalability of the concept. Nowadays we face two possibilities: we can ask close relatives in WhatsApp/Real Life or an anonymous crowd on facebook or forums, but what helps us to connect and build a local community? A community of people being in the same situation, living nearby, but you just don't know them? And professionals guiding you? They can help you building the confidence you need in this new situation, by being trustworthy contacts. This can lead to a community of care with less medicalization in human topics and still provide the care you need by a professional background. This will lead to less costs on a local and national level on a care-provider side, and will bring benefits on personal level. Additionally it's a direction to provide an inclusive solution, which is accessible for everyone. We would like to see this idea adopted into different concerns and having an existing local community providing help and filling gaps, care providers don't right now. This actually goes back to what community was always about, in combination with the new age of globalization and digitalization.
Our 10 weeks course "General Product | Togetherness at a distance" Interaction Design Masters Program at Umea University of Design is about co-creation, which means the whole result grew from insights and ideas of everyone who shared thoughts and concerns with us. In the past 10 weeks we held 4 workshops and 16 interviews. One of the interviews was conducted with Lara, a 32 year old, pregnant woman, who shared several concerns regarding the pandemic situation. She talked about doctors having inconsistent opinions, midwives who are absent because of quarantine and preparation courses which are not happening anymore. These are just a couple of factors showing where fundamental needs as a pregnant woman aren't covered, causing her to question trust into the system and not feeling secure within it anymore. After the interviews and group discussion one main question stood out: What does trust mean? With that one question, we had many more arising: What is care? What does the trust dynamic between people and the health care system look like? Do we sometimes trust the advice of a friend or family members more than the health care system? How does intimacy work, especially regarding care work? And how can we form and shape confidence?
Other insights were:
_Information overload "There is way too much information around, I get overwhelmed if I just want to google some simple question." _Unfiltered information "Very often you find too many different answers to your questions and they are allvery unfiltered and leave me anxious." _Financial situation "Many do worry a lot about their financial situation, also it's those who wouldn't really need it who use services, I think sometimes." _Share experience "Mothers or pregnant women use the classes very often to share thoughts and experiences and to build a relationship." _Language barrier "Mothers and their partners travel to new places, and new language is a big barrier for a better communication."
Now we moved to co-creation sessions, with the folowing findings:
_Have the choice "I think I'd like to have the choice between physical or non-physical meeting space." _Decide myself "I can decide myself what I want, who I want to have close." _Trust yourself "You have to trust yourself in order to help others to trust in themselves." _Create a Space "It is important to provide some space, either physical or digital. Space where they can exchange, inform and share."
With this we were able to form our very own brief:
How might we explore the significance of midwifery and the trustworthy relationship to expectants, analyze and understand it to translate those trust factors to improve confidence in themselves, with a more accessible care system?